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“The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Asshur. And the fourth
river is the Euphrates.” GENESIS 2:14 NIV
―Are you sitting down?‖
Doctor Caleb Harrison sank within his chair and adjusted his glasses. ―Sure, I‘m sitting.
―You‘re going.‖ Karsten‘s baritone voice boomed over the line.
―With the Third Armored. Doctor Paul Raford was diagnosed with leukemia. You‘re up.‖
―Oh, no! Sir, I need to call Paul. He and I interned together years ago.‖
―Caleb, did you hear me? You‘re deploying to Saudi with the Third Armored and leaving
around Christmas. With your lieutenant colonel rank and preventive medicine skills, you can do
the job at least as well as Raford.‖
―Three weeks from today shipping out to the Gulf?‖ He lifted the framed photo of his
daughter next to the phone. Blonde hair haloed Christy‘s round face, highlighting her joyful
―Let‘s meet to talk more about this. My calendar is open next Tuesday at fourteen
hundred hours. There‘s something I need to give you.‖
He marked down the reminder. ―Yes, Sir. I will be there.‖
A dispassionate dial tone followed. Caleb replaced the receiver.
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He shouldn‘t be stunned by the unexpected call. He‘d been in the Army fourteen years
and sudden changes came with the job. The Berlin Wall had fallen two years ago, giving way to
a unified Germany.
He swiveled his chair to the left and stared through the lone window in his office. A
soldier swung his arms as he strolled across the parking lot toward the hospital entrance. The
guy‘s easy-going posture and leisurely movement suggested he had all the time in the world.
Caleb steered his into Volvo in the autobahn slow traffic lane as he retreated home to the
northwest suburb of Frankfurt. He exited the expressway onto cobblestoned streets. Thickly
frosted store front windows flaunting Christmas sales and bakeries offering freshly baked nut
bread flashed by. His mind was just as clouded and numb as it replayed the recent phone
conversation again and again. In just three weeks, Germany‘s cold, snowy roads would give way
to the open, barren deserts of Southwest Asia.
He pulled into the townhouse‘s empty parking lot. Cold wind nipped at his face. Snow
crunched like dry sand under his stiff shoes. A lone lamp post stood at the curb, stingy with its
ivory glow, as if conserving it for a long night. He pushed open the front door and stepped inside
the hallway. The warm aroma of baked peanut butter cookies drifted from the kitchen.
Caleb took off his coat and hung it on a hook next to the hallway mirror. The silver glass
reflected an image of a middle-aged man with hair graying at the temples and forehead wrinkles
who should be hugging his grandchildren. How could such a fellow be shipping out to war?
Bryce jumped up. His math assignment and notebooks lay scattered on the narrow
kitchen table. Christy ran from the living room and sprang into Caleb‘s outstretched arms. ―Hey
Skeeter, you move fast.‖
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Bryce hustled toward the two and wrapped his arms around Caleb‘s waist. The
children‘s‘ eyes brimmed with mischief as he fought to keep his balance.
―Mom, Dad‘s home,‖ they called.
―Hey, you two. Dad is indeed home.‖ The lump in Caleb‘s throat burned as he stooped
down and bear-hugged them to his chest.
Caleb stood up. Bryce extended his hand and curled his fingers into Caleb‘s, keeping
their thumbs free and pointing upward. ―Special handshake for the good guy. Your grip is getting
Above the living room doorway hung a string of small, paired boxes, an Advent calendar.
Each box, numbered with the day of the month, held one piece of chocolate.
―Finally! I can‘t wait any more,‖ Bryce yelled.
The kids bounded from his side. They each claimed a box and ripped it open to claim the
The love of his life stood at the kitchen doorway. Marjie‘s honey-blond hair teased her
rounded shoulders. She wore the pearl necklace that Caleb had given her five months ago for
their thirteenth anniversary. She parted her ruby lips and smiled.
―Marj, you look lovely.‖
Caleb chuckled as he watched his two darlings devour the chocolates.
Marjie pointed a serving spoon at the kids. ―Only one piece for each of you. It has to last
three more weeks until Christmas day.‖ She cleared away Bryce‘s homework and set the table.
Then she lit two pine-scented green candles. Bryce and Christy elbowed each other as she served
overflowing plates of her specialty, roast chicken, gravy, and home-baked bread still warm from
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The children picked up their forks.
―Kids,‖ Caleb said, ―not yet. We say grace first, remember?‖ They held hands.
―Hey, Dad,‖ Bryce said, ―why are you gripping my hand so hard?‖
The boy closed his eyes and bowed his head. ―Alle guten gaben, alles was wir haben,
kommt von Gott von Dir. Guten appétit. Amen.‖
Caleb ate in silence as Christy and Bryce filled him in on school happenings of the day.
Bryce wiped gravy from his dimpled chin. By his account, he had a blessedly usual day n
his third grade class at Erich Koestner Schule. ―Dad, I know you‘re busy at the hospital with all
this Desert Shield stuff. But I saw a Stealth Fighter T-shirt this afternoon when Mom took us
shopping. Maybe you can get one for my birthday next week.‖
Christy swung her legs and kicked her feet on the rungs of the chair. ―Don‘t forget me the
next time when you and Mom go shopping.‖ She flipped her daisy-yellow hair. ―I did remember
to clean the parakeets‘ cage today.‖
Caleb savored the aroma of his wife‘s cooking and the silken radiance from the
Christmas candles, which came from Marjie‘s mother‘s home. The three faces he loved were
happy and animated. He prayed this wouldn‘t be their last Christmas together.
Marjie‘s smooth hand caressed his. ―How was work today?‖
He focused on his plate. ―Not the usual. But I saw some patients. Took calls from a few
of the clinics. Had lunch by myself.‖
She frowned. ―Why are you so quiet?‖
―Colonel Karsten said Paul Raford is diagnosed with leukemia.‖
―Cal, I need to call his wife.‖
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―Please, Marj, let‘s keep it down,‖ he whispered. ―The kids.‖
Bryce put down his fork. ―All right, ‗Cal,‘ we know what that means. ‗Serious grown-up
stuff to talk about.‘‖
The two precocious kids finished their dinner and escaped into the living room.
Marjie plucked a red and gold dish towel from near the stove. Instead of drying dishes,
she twisted the cloth with taut fingers. She sat down next to Caleb.
He tried to keep his voice low. ―Colonel Karsten told me I‘m going with the Third
Armored to Saudi Arabia.‖
―Don‘t tell me what I already know.‖ Her blue eyes flashed. ―The news channels are full
of Desert Shield deployment reports. Are you sure you have to go?‖
He forced a breath. ―I phoned the senior colonel in Heidelberg at Seventh Medical
Command. He confirmed it.‖
―Caleb, why on earth you? Five and a half years from retirement. You‘ve never been in
combat. Aren‘t you too old for frontline duty?‖
―Marj, there are medics, doctors, and nurses older than me who are shipping out. I need
―But why did Colonel Karsten choose you?‖
―Doctor Raford was hit with a life-threatening sickness. Obviously not deployable. I have
to take his place.‖
―How close to the front will you be?‖
―All I know is that if there is war, the division will be part of a huge invasion force to
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She buried her face in the dish towel. Her voice was muffled. ―How long?‖
―Maybe twelve months.‖
―Oh, no, Cal.‖
They leaned into each other.
Caleb nestled Marjie‘s face into his shoulder. ―The kids need to know. It‘s better if I tell
He stood up.
Sobbing came from the living room.
Marjie covered her eyes.
Caleb sat down and rubbed his chin.
―What‘s wrong?‖Marjie asked.
―They seem to know.‖
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The Land Between the Rivers
Before Caleb had a chance to see his first patient of the morning, a lieutenant strode in
―Colonel Harrison, Lieutenant Anthony Kile, Foxtrot Company Environmental
Specialist.‖ The fellow neither offered a handshake nor asked for permission to sit down. He
helped himself to an armchair near Caleb’s desk.
Caleb studied the man‘s youthful face. He was a short, wiry guy, about five and a half
feet from spit-polished boots to stubble of black hair on a nearly bald head. His eyes stared flatly
from under jet-black eyebrows. He looked no more than twenty years old. And he reeked of Old
Spice aftershave. Caleb sneezed and wiped his nose.
―Good to meet you,‖ Caleb said. ―Have a seat.‖
The intense, starched lieutenant didn‘t catch the joke.
―Sir, Major Lisa Black asked me to brief you. This is classified information.‖
How classified could the information be? The lieutenant stayed in his seat and didn‘t
bother to close the door.
―Medical units from other divisions have been in Saudi Arabia for several months. You
will be part of the Third Armored ‗Spearhead‘ Division preventive medicine team. We‘ll join
Foxtrot Medical Company of the 122nd Main Support Battalion, Third Armored. Foxtrot
numbers about one hundred officer and enlisted personnel. It holds an exemplary record for
accomplishing assigned missions. Sergeant Vicky Vernardo is the only female soldier in our
squad. She‘s extremely proficient and very up-front, but gets touchy if anyone asks about her
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past, and awful touchy if someone badmouths female enlisted soldiers. You‘ll be the only
preventive medicine doctor assigned to the division. I‘ll have command authority over our team.
Major Lisa Black is the Foxtrot Company Commander. Though you outrank her, she will have
command authority over you.
―The major assigned you a mission totally different from primary care work. You will not
treat patients. Your role is preventive medicine and not hands-on patient care, so you‘ll do things
like illness outbreak investigations and troop sanitary inspections. If Foxtrot physicians get
overwhelmed, then Major Black might have you do sick call for American troops, prisoners of
war, and Iraqi civilians. We have a water test laboratory built onto a five-ton truck. The truck‘s
heavy and slow, so it won‘t be used for water recons, only for testing. But we‘ll be out in our
three Humvees daily doing environmental assessments of our companies and battalions and
collecting water samples. But even before we begin that, we‘ll be waiting around in a warehouse
for our trucks and equipment to arrive in port.‖
―Sir, at Dammam seaport in Saudi, the only ‗quarters‘ for soldiers, including officers, are
port-side warehouses, built by civilian contractors years ago for freight storage. They are located
one hundred sixty kilometers southeast from Saddam‘s forces at Kuwait‘s south border. Officers
and enlisted will not only billet together, but do physical training together. There will be
mandatory formation every morning for all officers and enlisted. Our Holy Joe, Chaplain Al
Arnold, as circumstances permit, will hold Sunday worship services. After our trucks and
Humvees arrive by ship, we‘ll move out to the desert TAA.‖
―TAA? Explain that.‖
―Tactical assembly area for the Third Armored, where the division regroups. We spend a
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few weeks at the TAA setting up perimeters and building bunkers. Once CENTCOM, the Army
Central Command, issues orders, Operation Instant Thunder will unleash a massive air war to
wipe out the enemy‘s command posts and communication centers. After that, we move north to
This kid seemed to know it all. ―What‘s this ‗FAA?‘‖
―Forward Assembly Area. The division jumping off point to invade Iraq and recapture
Kuwait. Oh, and don‘t forget to pack your army sweater. Desert nights can drop below freezing.‖
The lieutenant perused Caleb‘s crisp Battle Dress Uniform. ―sir, do you have field
Caleb cleared his throat. ―Once. When I tried out for the army expert field medical badge
―Did you get it?‖
―I had problems with the night land navigation course.‖
―Well, I have the badge. In fact, I outperformed everyone else in my group on the night
Caleb shook his head and inhaled deeply. This guy‘s ego was as high as the Bavarian
Alps. But was he straightforward? He might be covering up something he didn‘t want to share.
―You seem so certain, Lieutenant. Is your unit fit to fight?‖
―Absolutely. Our division finished its two-week winter field training and live fire
exercise in Grafenwoehr.‖
―Saddam‘s army has Russian-built tanks, trucks, and weapons. This war will be the first
time American military hardware will be pitted against Soviet equipment. We have state-of-the-
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art M16 rifles. The Iraqi army is armed with Russian Kalashnikov assault rifles. This is the first
time Humvees, laser-guided bombs, Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, and Patriot anti-missile
missiles will be deployed in combat. Our three hundred and fifty Spearhead battle tanks are in
precision condition. In fact, they‘re already on the way to the Gulf by ship. We‘ll whip Saddam‘s
butt. He‘ll surrender once the entire Army Seventh Corps masses at the Iraqi border.‖
―What do you mean, ‗Spearhead?‘‖
Kile flashed an almost reassuring grin. ―The Third AD was organized in April 1941 and
earned its nickname in World War II after it breached the German Wehrmacht defenses and cut
German supply and communication lines. The Third AD raced across northern France and
Belgium in eighteen days. Army VII Corps Commander back then, Major General Collins,
ordered Third AD troops to ‗spearhead the attack.‘ Not only that, but our division was the first
American unit to enter Germany in 1943, when it rolled into the German town of Roetgen.‖
―Lieutenant, military campaigns can be delayed by many circumstances. The German
Wehrmacht thought it could invade Russia and destroy Stalin‘s army during a spring-summer
offensive. They never made it. Snow, ice, poor logistics. This ‗invasion‘ of Iraqi may take longer
than expected. I suspect there will be a lot of ‗hurry up and wait.‘‖
―I respectfully disagree, sir.‖ Kile noticed Caleb‘s medical diploma on the wall. ―Kansas
City University of Medicine and Biosciences. Graduated 1976. Wow. You‘ll be the oldest
member of our team. You‘re about the same age as my girlfriend‘s father.‖
What an audacious, brazen kid!
―You and I will work close together. All of us are very field experienced. We‘ll take care
of you. ―
A garnet ring flashed on the lieutenant‘s left ring finger. Caleb furrowed his eyebrows.
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―Affirmative. Graduated from the Point in the top third of my class.‖
Though this kid had a lot to learn about respect, he knew a thing or two about what they
were up against. ―I read that Saddam‘s Republican Guard divisions fought and won a seven-year
war against Iran. Can we beat them?‖
He grinned. ―Sir, we have laser-guided bombs, satellite reconnaissance, Multiple Launch
Rocket Systems, and Patriot anti-missile missiles on our side. No problem.‖
Caleb leaned forward. ―Lieutenant, sending American troops across the border to invade
Iraq is war.‖
Kile scowled. ―The ground attack will launch after Instant Thunder conducts a bombing
air campaign to neutralize enemy radar, communication, and command centers.‖
―Sir, our mission is to implement the United Nations mandate to liberate Kuwait and
drive out the Iraqi army. Civilian deaths are unavoidable.‖
Caleb straightened in his chair. He would be working side by side with this guy for the
next year. Yet he knew very little of his background. ―Lieutenant, I hardly know you. Tell me
about yourself. Where are you from?‖
―Manlius, near New York City. I was married. My wife filed for divorce last month. She
probably won‘t make it without me to support her. But so what? I have a girlfriend.‖ Kile stood
up. ―I‘ll keep in touch.‖
―Thanks, Lieutenant. I hope I look forward to working with you.‖ Kile tightened his
mouth as he turned and left.
Caleb gripped the edge of his desk and stared through the window. Soldiers fought and
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died for millennia in the same deserts where they would deploy. He prayed they could somehow
minimize civilian casualties in the cradle of civilization. The land of Adam and Eve.
Early the next morning, Caleb drove his Volvo to an American helicopter base in
Fliegelhorst with an operating room technician, Specialist Thomas, riding along. They had never
met before that day, but now they shared a common destiny – a full day of out processing then
deployment to the Persian Gulf.
Thomas twisted his cap while he stared out the window. ―Sir, thanks for the ride. My
wife needs the car to get to work at the trauma ward. I hope we both can spend Christmas Eve
with our families.‖ He paused. ―I hate this.‖
Caleb sighed. ―It‘s not so bad. Immunizations, out processing, powers of attorney.‖
Streaks of frost dabbed the windshield corners. He punched the heater ventilation switch. ―We‘ll
need to draw up our wills.‖ The fan whined. ―In case we die. I hope those stay filed away. Out of
sight, out of mind.‖
Caleb noticed Thomas staring at the fleeting white line in the road. He couldn‘t think of
anything to say to the young man that would ease his anxiety. They spent the next forty-five
minutes in silence. Caleb didn‘t even turn on the car radio.
They pulled up to the base, climbed out, and walked into a cavernous, musty aviation
hangar. Though it was cold outside, the hangar was overheated inside. Over a hundred American
soldiers in green winter BDUs—battle dress uniforms—moved through rows of tables with
medical, dental, and immunization check points.
When Caleb and Thomas approached the first table, an army optometry technician with a
prominent larynx told Caleb to look into a vision screener machine. He had Caleb read lines of
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uniform letters in decreasing size, and then scribbled numbers on a form. ―We‘ll order
prescription glasses for you. A pair and a spare.‖
―Thanks. I‘m myopic. My prescription is two years old and I have to squint to see things
far away. Never took time to order new ones. Didn‘t think I would ever be deployed.‖
―Those won‘t arrive here before you leave for the Gulf. Someone needs to pick them up
and mail them to you.‖
They moved on. Caleb wanted it all to end. He preferred the familiar surroundings of his
hospital rather than shuffling through a decrepit hangar. Up until now in his life, he‘d chased a
dozen goals and seen them come true – graduating from Osteopathic Medical School, passing
board certification examinations, promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. Now, his goal was down to
one – make it home to his family.
Caleb felt his stomach growl. He looked at this watch. ―They could‘ve at least set up a
They handed checklist forms to a granite-faced sergeant sweating behind the table. Caleb
spotted a First Infantry Division combat patch on the man‘s right shoulder sleeve. This fellow
had been in combat with the Big Red One division. Sarge‘s sweaty body odor made Caleb hold
Granite Face scanned papers and jabbed the bottom of each with a black rubber stamp.
He initialed each form with a red pen and shoved them back. ―It appears that you two have
finished, except for one thing.‖
He collected the forms and jammed them into his shirt pocket. ―What‘s that?‖
―Report to the Third Armored equipment issue point for your gas masks and Mark I
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―We‘re assigned to Frankfurt Army Medical Center, Sergeant. We sign for those at our
hospital plans, operations, and training section.‖
―Colonel, I‘m surprised you‘re not familiar with the operations plan. This isn‘t training.
You are going to war. The regs say you‘re authorized to sign for those only from Third Armored
Caleb clenched his teeth. He was a fellow who long ago learned to let attitudes roll off
him, but the attitudes of some of these NCOs – Non Commissioned Officers- would raise the
hackles of any battle-hardened trooper.
―When you‘re on the desert battlefield, you might need a gas mask and the preloaded
syringes to treat chemical nerve agent casualties.‖ He aimed the pen at Caleb‘s chest. ―You
might need them to treat yourself.‖
―I‘ve taught the chemical casualties treatment course to our hospital staff, Sergeant. You
don‘t need to lecture me on autoinjectors and operations plans. I‘m a physician.‖
Granite Face’s jaw dropped when he noticed Caleb’s lieutenant colonel rank. ―Sorry,
Sir.‖ The guy motioned to the next soldier in line.
Thomas and Caleb turned away from the table, moved out of the hangar, and climbed
into the Volvo. They pulled away.
Caleb breathed deeply, and then relaxed his shoulders. ―Specialist Thomas, I’m a
middle-aged doctor and . . .‖
―Are you trying to tell me, Sir, you‘re scared?‖
―Well . . . I mean, yes.‖
―I‘m scared too.‖
―I‘m glad you said that.‖
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They arrived in Frankfurt at Betts Kaserne, parked the car, and headed to hospital unit
supply, across from Caleb‘s office building.
A staff sergeant with a cherubic face sat reading a Stars and Stripes newspaper behind a
desk. ―Say, I‘ve been expecting you. And thrilled to see you both. Brothers in arms from the
medical center. Hospital plans, operations, and training alerted me you would see me today.‖
He handed them each a gas mask, chemical protective suit, and three autoinjectors. The
mask straps looked worn, like many soldiers had trained with them. The chem suit was sealed in
a hermetic green pouch, obviously never used. Not yet. The autoinjectors showed an expiration
date in one year.
Sarge pulled out a hand receipt.
―Sign here, each of you. When you get back from Saudi, you have to return it.‖
―Here.‖ He handed them each a Three Musketeers chocolate bar.
Did the Sergeant give them candy because he pitied them? Or did he feel guilty that he
wasn‘t shipping out with them?
They faltered out to the parking lot, arms loaded with gear.
Caleb reflected on the day‘s events as he drove home in crawling rush-hour traffic. They
trained in the past with protective masks, chemical suits, and injectors, but never used them
outside a classroom. Now they had them.
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The owl-eyed woman thumbed through Caleb‘s medical record as he sat motionless on
an exam table. She wore no makeup or jewelry. She peered over civilian wire-rimmed glasses.
―How long have you had these symptoms?‖
―Hey, don‘t you know that half the soldiers in Frankfurt are deploying? Saddam Hussein
Her face bore no emotion.
Caleb toyed with his shiny dog tags. He side bent his head to the right and the left.
―Sorry. I haven‘t slept more than four or five hours a night since the commander called me last
week. I‘m spending more time getting field equipment, combat boots, and briefings than working
at my job. Having troubled dreams. Can barely concentrate. I‘m losing my temper a lot. Probably
an adjustment reaction with depressed mood.‖
She wrote a prescription and dropped it into his hand. ―Colonel, I agree with your
tentative diagnosis. I‘m giving you a prescription for Xanax. Take one tablet before you go to
bed. It should help you sleep. But if it doesn‘t, drop by to see me again before you leave. You‘re
adjusting, but you have more adjustment to manage.‖
He stood up from the table.
―The hospital does have a support group to help families of deploying soldiers. I believe
Bernadette Mosely organized that group. Maybe your wife would be interested.‖
―Thank you. Marjie and Bernadette both volunteer in the pediatric ward.‖
For the first time, combat boots, not hospital shoes, carried him out the door. He turned
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down the hallway and paused. He was glad no one saw him leaving the clinic. Officers
deploying to war had to be mentally strong. He moved with measured steps toward the
―Caleb Harrison, I‘m pleased to see you.‖
He pivoted around. A square-jawed man with full colonel rank towered behind him.
Colonel Richard Karsten‘s six-foot-four stature stood as firm as the Colossus of Rhodes.
―Caleb, how are you doing?‖
He looked around. Caleb was the only doctor visible wearing BDUs and combat boots.
―Could be better, Sir.‖
Karsten noted the prescription slip in Caleb‘s left hand. The commander rubbed index
fingers against his thumbs. ―I see you‘re getting squared away for deployment. You have an
appointment to see me tomorrow. But now that you‘re here, come up to my office. I want to visit
Caleb followed the commander upstairs. The colonel led him to a leather sofa in front of
a walnut desk. A framed Bronze Star medal hovered on the wall above the sofa. Underneath the
medal were shining brass words, ―Leave No One Behind.‖
―Have a seat.‖
Caleb eased down. He‘d been in Karsten‘s office many times before for meetings and
briefings. Karsten was his Senior Rater and mentor. But this time he was here for something
quite different. He saw things now that he never noticed before. On the wall behind Karsten‘s
desk, a one by two-foot framed illustration of General Stonewall Jackson mounted on a white
horse. Next to it, a maroon flag pinned to the wall showing a silver medical caduce in the center,
with words underneath, ―We Care for the Best.‖ On the opposite wall, a framed diploma,
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―University of Minnesota School of Public Health.‖ And then, on the desktop, a bullet, that
rested on a bowl-shaped bronze paperweight.
Karsten sat. ―How are things?‖
―To be honest, Sir, not well. Can‘t sleep. No appetite. Can‘t focus.‖
Karsten leaned backward in his chair.
―Ten years ago, I killed a patient.‖
The Commander straightened upright.
―I was the pediatric junior resident one night at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The
ER sent up a sick two-year old girl wearing bunny slippers. Mahmood, her father, carried her in.
He spoke Arabic. This girl had a fever of a hundred and three and severe hypotension. I started
an IV in her then raced through her medical history. Born in Iraq, 1978. Father was a
businessman, divorced, currently living in Maryland. Travelled back and forth from the U.S. to
―The girl had no immunizations, not even tetanus. The ward nurse and I rushed her over
to peds intensive care while the man pushed his daughter‘s IV pole. After we arrived there, the
man paced around her bed and watched us like a wary coyote. The ICU nurse drew bloods for
culture and chem panels. The father stroked his daughter‘s hair and comforted her, but I kept a
sharp eye on both of them all the while. I did a lumbar puncture for spinal fluid cultures. I started
the girl on big guns IV antibiotics. Then . . . she . . . crashed.‖
Karsten rubbed index fingers against his thumbs.
―Her blood pressure dropped further and…‖ Caleb‘s voice wavered. ―She seized. I kept
pushing intravenous diazepam till the seizures stopped and then she stopped breathing. I
intubated and bagged her, put her on a ventilator, and paged the senior resident. I stood there
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adjusting the ventilator, and the girl vomited and obstructed her ET tube.‖
―She went into bradycardia?‖
―Of course. And then Mister Senior Resident finally strolled in. The father pulled out a
Koran and kissed it. It was four o‘clock in the morning when the senior resident said we should
kill the ventilator and stop the IVs. I disagreed. ‗No use keeping this up, she‘ll die anyway,‘ he
―Did the girl‘s father understand English?‖
―Unfortunately, Sir, yes.‖
―The father held her little hand while he read from the Koran. I silently prayed as he
read. My roommate in osteopathic med school was from Kuwait. I know a little Arabic. When he
finished reading, I rested my hand on his shoulder and asked, „kayfa l-Hal?‟ ‗How are you
doing?‘ He said nothing. Just nodded. When we pronounced her, the girl‘s brown eyes stayed
open under the halogen lights, like she refused to die. The father wept. I‘ll never forget the girl‘s
round face and brown eyes. I think of my daughter Christy when the memory returns to me. The
nurse patted the girl‘s cheek and pulled a sheet over her. I tried to comfort the father. He didn‘t
say much. The man wouldn‘t leave bedside till the orderly moved her body to the morgue.‖
―Father refused an autopsy. Said it would take too much time. Moslems must bury their
dead within twenty-four hours. I respected his request.‖
―What were the culture results?‖
―Blood and spinal fluid positive for Haemophilus influenza type B.‖
―Caleb, listen . . .‖
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―Her name was Aija.‖
―What antibiotics did you use?‖
―Intravenous Ampicillin and Gentamycin. Should have covered any bacteria. Any that
would have been around ten years ago.‖
―I would have done the same, Caleb. This girl apparently had no prior immunization
against Haemophilus. Susceptible host, probably interacted with immunized American kids.
Picked up a virulent or drug-resistant strain from another kid, maybe from the mid-East. Likely a
strain resistant to Amp and Gent. You did provide prompt and appropriate medical treatment.‖
Karsten paused. ―I‘m truly sorry about your patient.‖
―I resigned from the pediatrics training program.‖
―Caleb, a pediatrics residency can be extraordinarily stressful. You‘ve grieved Aija‘s loss
for ten years. From what you‘ve said, her death was unavoidable. Let her go, Son. Let her go.
You couldn‘t heal her. You have to heal yourself.‖
―How‘s that? ‗Heal yourself?‘‖
―You can heal yourself by resolving your guilt. You need to forgive yourself.‖
Caleb shook his head. ―Sir, I don‘t think I can go through with this deployment. Too old,
too chicken . . . Richard, I‘m a coward at heart.‖
Karsten reached forward and lifted the bullet from its resting place. He fingered it.
―Twenty years ago I was a medical officer in Vietnam with First Cav Division. My battalion
spent three weeks on the Khe Sanh plateau barely holding our position. Hardly any rations, short
on medical supplies, scarce drinking water.‖
Karsten‘s fingers clamped the projectile. ―North Vietnamese regulars hit us day and
night with everything they had. We ran low on ammunition. John was a family practice
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physician who trained with me at Fort Sam. He low-crawled to the perimeter to rescue one of our
combat medics who took a slug in the abdomen. I should have crawled with him, to help them
both, but I didn‘t. While John dragged the man through the mud toward a fox hole, a mortar
round screamed in and killed them both. Overall, we took forty percent casualties.‖ Karsten
glanced at Caleb. ―I still grieve their loss. I‘m responsible for John‘s death.‖
Karsten held the bullet up to solar rays streaming through the command suite windows.
―Caleb, as a combat physician on the battlefield, the most important thing I learned was this.
Heal whom you can, but bring comfort to everyone you treat. You can‘t heal everyone. Trust
God to guide you along the way.‖
Needles of light emanated from the projectile.
―A lot of men get scared, Caleb. Before Khe Sanh, I had never been in combat either.
When you get to the desert, try to see the positive side of every challenge. Stay focused on the
mission. Take a diary along and keep it up to date. Write Marjie every day. Pray for the best, but
expect the worst. Take one day at a time. If you do all that, you‘ll make it home fine.‖
An image of Aija‘s face came to Caleb‘s mind. She would have been twelve years old
today. ―Where‘d you get that slug?‖
―One night when the Charlies hit us, it slammed into a sandbag inches from my head. I
dug it out and kept it.‖
He turned and rested the projectile in Caleb‘s right palm. It was cold and hard, but he felt
a soft tingle in his fingers.
Until now, Caleb never slowed down long enough to allow himself to hear the voice or
see the light of God. A door unlocked in his heart, and somehow he knew he was beginning an
inward journey, a journey that would carry him to a land between eternal rivers. Warmth kindled
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in his chest. His shoulder muscles relaxed.
―Here, take this with you. Bring it back to me when you come home.‖
Caleb slumped on the kitchen chair. He brooded over after-dinner tea leaves stuck to the
bottom of his empty cup. Patient care involved logical reasoning based on history, examination,
and formulation of a treatment plan. Why would a madman dictator not only invade another
country but also commandeer that nation‘s oil supplies? This had no logic. There were more
important things for a physician to do other than spend a year away from his practice and family.
Bryce and Christy had to sense his tension and foreboding, but he wondered if they understood
its impact on their family.
Bryce‘s staccato laughter interrupted his musing. He stood up and advanced into the
dining room. The lad perched at the table reading a story in his favorite boy‘s magazine about the
fall of the Berlin wall two years earlier. Schoolbooks and pencils lay idle as he side bent his head
from one shoulder to the other and giggled. Christy sprawled on the maple-colored wooden floor
with her coloring book. In the living room, Marjie played a flowing Rachmaninoff concerto on
―Bryce, why aren‘t you doing your homework?‖ Caleb asked.
His son stared at the magazine and showed no reaction.
Christy reached for her box and fished for a thin crayon. The page lay open to a scene of
the camel enclosure at Frankfurt Zoo. The crayon broke when she began to color the camel.
―Stupid stuff!‖ She threw the crayon at the sofa.
―Bryce, this is not like you. You‘re ignoring me. I asked you a question. Look at me.‖
Marjie turned the page. She stopped playing and rested motionless hands on the keys.
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Christy rose to her knees. ―Mom, do we have any more orange crayons?‖
Bryce slumped in his chair, whimpered, and looked at the wall.
―Bryce, this is your father. Why are you ignoring me?‖
―I can‘t finish this without an orange crayon.‖
Marjie rose up from the piano bench. Her music book slid off the rack.
Bryce buried his face in his arms and cried.
―Do your homework!‖ Caleb shouted.
Christy began to sob.
Bryce slid off the chair and lay face down on the floor. Hysteric bawling erupted. ―Leave
Caleb grabbed his son‘s arm, hauled him off the floor, and shook him once. He glared
into the boy‘s face. Bryce‘s wide-eyed terror, flowing tears, and flushed face made Caleb pause.
Marjie stood motionless.
Caleb‘s eyes searched those of his son. Why would I do this? He‟s just boy. He‟s more
frightened than me. My flesh and blood. He‟s done nothing wrong. Please, God, give me
Christy left the room sobbing.
Caleb breathed deeply, pulled the boy close, and hugged him. Bruce buried his face in his
shoulder and whimpered.
He eased his son down on to the floor and embraced forgiving arms around his trembling
shoulders. ―Bryce, I‘m . . . I‘m sorry. I don‘t want me to go away either.‖
Caleb suspected that the deployment would come sooner than expected. He and Marjie
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had decided to celebrate Christmas Eve two days early to preserve a sense of normalcy. If he
should come home, God forbid, in an army-issue casket, at least the kids would remember the
Advent calendar, the two days-early family Christmas celebration, Christy‘s crayons, and
Shreds of red and green paper lay on the floor near the tree. Bryce couldn‘t keep his
hands off his plane. He imitated a sound of jet engines as a plastic Stealth Bomber zoomed over
a make-believe sofa runway. The German news channel gave the latest update on troop buildups
in Saudi Arabia.
―Dad, I hope you get to see a Stealth fighter plane when you‘re in Saudi Arabia.‖
Dozens of unused crayons lay scattered on the floor in front of Christy. ―Mom, this new
coloring book is great. But I don‘t think I‘m ever going to use all the crayons.‖
Marjie and Caleb sat on the sofa near Bryce‘s landing strip. She and Caleb read together
from the Book of Romans. ―Keep our spiritual fervor, serving the Lord . . . be joyful in hope,
patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.‖
The telephone rang. Caleb lifted the receiver.
―Sir, Lieutenant Kile. Corporal over at battalion called me. Instead of deploying the day
after Christmas, we leave Christmas Eve, the day after tomorrow. Why don‘t you come over to
our office with your bags and field gear then? We‘ll give you a lift over to Hootier Kasserne in
Hanau. We stay overnight at the barracks. The next morning we leave by bus for Rhein-Main
A cold sweat chilled Caleb‘s forehead. ―Thank you, Lieutenant.‖
Caleb lowered the receiver.
―Who was that?‖ Marjie asked.
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―Lieutenant Anthony Kile. We‘re leaving Christmas Eve.‖
His chilled fingers wrapped around Marjie‘s warm hand. The kids absorbed themselves
with their toys. Christy put down her orange crayon and looked up. ―Dad, is something wrong?‖
Marjie put her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes.
―The Army‘s sending me away for a while, sweetie.‖
―We know that, Dad.‖
―It might be a long time before I come home.‖
―Is that why Mom‘s crying?‖
Caleb lay awake in bed that night though Marjie slept at his side. Ivory moonlight shone
through the window and cast shadows of trees on the wall. He reached toward the nightstand,
touched the Bible‘s bumpy leather cover, and put on his glasses. The moon provided enough
illumination for him to find it. There it was. New Testament, Book of Philippians. ―I can do
everything through him who gives me strength.‖
As he reread those verses, there came the reassurance of Colonel Karsten‘s advice. He
had to let go of Aija in order to heal himself. He had to trust God for guidance. And if he should
treat patients in the combat zone, he would bring comfort to everyone, even those who would
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Reflections on the Persian Gulf War
By Thomas Murphy
It was a Monday in November, Veteran’s Day, when I received the telephone call
informing me that my National Guard Unit, the 209th Medical Company, was placed on alert for
deployment as part of Operation Desert Shield. Like many other soldiers in the all-volunteer
force, I joined the military to earn money for college. Many of us came from families that could
not afford to pay for their children’s education.
For many recruits, the military presents the only escape from poverty or a career at
McDonald’s. Before returning to college, several years in the workforce flipping hamburgers and
mopping floors left my wife and me with only a bankruptcy, because borrowing money was the
only means we had to purchase food and diapers for our infant daughter.
I reflect now on how foolish I was to believe the recruiter when he said the only place I
might go if activated was sunny California. There was plenty of sun waiting for us in Southwest
Asia, until burning oil wells darkened the skies.
Before our deployment to Saudi Arabia, the military sent us to wintery Wisconsin to
undergo intensive training and preparation, much of which focused on chemical warfare. On the
weekends between the seven weeks of rehearsal, I was able to visit with my family. How do you
tell a four-year-old child that you may never return? Each shoulder ride could be the last. You
cannot hug each other without breaking into tears. Could she understand that I did not want to
go—but that if I refused I would likely spend seven years in prison?
―Please don’t go, Daddy, please stay. Who will rub my back? Can I go with you? Who
will make me pancakes?‖ The echo of her voice still reverberates in a guilty conscience.
After filing for bankruptcy, the opportunities facing my wife and me were limited.
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Hoping for a better future, we chose to pursue college educations. For us, the choice to go back
to college depended on money from the Army. Social mobility, I had been taught as a youth, was
the foundation upon which this nation was built. Little did I know the price I’d pay in pursuit of
the elusive ―American dream.‖
For my wife, my mobilization meant temporarily facing single parenthood. Hope for an
eventual reunion was the motivation that gave her strength, but that reunion was never certain.
War is not only a matter of statecraft. There is a human dimension that must be
addressed. I finally realized that the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. is not only names on
a wall; it represents broken families and lost dreams.
Do ethics have meaning for families, or are they simply a principle of statehood? Should
we tear loving parents from innocent children to send parents to war?
As an anthropologist in training, I was pleased to see the Army’s efforts to educate us on
the culture and tradition of our soon-to-be host country. On the other hand, I listened in disbelief
when George Bush Senior deliberately mispronounced Saddam Hussein’s name. ―Sadam,‖ as
Bush mispronounced it, was the equivalent of a vulgarity in Arabic.
It is still difficult to imagine that a president of the United States would tell the leader of
another nation that he was ―going to get his butt kicked.‖
If the Army could afford the cost of briefing nearly a half million soldiers on the
importance of understanding another culture, I wondered why our commander in chief did not
receive a similar briefing, unless he did it on purpose. Peace in a multicultural world is
dependent on respect for others. But the just war theory does not require that decision-makers
respect cultural differences.
Our plane landed in Saudi Arabia early in January of 1991. Even at that point, I harbored
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a hope that we would not have to fight. At three a.m. on January 17th that hope was demolished.
Inside an apartment building built for the nomadic Bedouins, now converted to military
barracks, I was awakened from my sleep by someone calling my name.
―Wake up. It started,‖ the voice said, ―go to MOPP level two. Put on your chem
protective suits and over boots.‖
A room full of soldiers bustled in voiceless activity as we quickly dressed ourselves in
trousers and a blouse, both lined with charcoal. These clothes, we had been told, should protect
us in the case of a chemical attack.
The silence in the room was broken by a thunderous noise resembling a rocket launch.
―I think it’s friendly,‖ a voice in the darkness gasped.
A powerful explosion erupted after a brilliant flash of light. No one had to give the
command to don our gas masks and remaining chemical protective equipment. Outside the
building, we saw the burning pieces of what we later discovered was a Scud missile intercepted
by a Patriot missile directly above our location. The hours spent in a gas mask that morning and
many others were a horror I will never forget.
A few weeks later, we left the Bedouin apartment complex to set up tents in the Saudi
desert. One fateful evening I spent on guard duty remains vivid in my mind.
I stood at the gate of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, built of tents and located about
twenty-five kilometers from the Iraqi border. Terrorism, we were warned, is a major threat. We
watched for suspicious activity.
A truck, which appeared to be American made, pulled off the main supply route and
turned down the makeshift road toward our camp. At a point about two hundred meters away, the
truck veered to the right, leaving the road. The truck headed toward the sand berm surrounding
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the camp. This action was in clear violation of security. Could it be a terrorist?
We had a field phone for communication with higher headquarters, but my companion’s
attempt to contact the command post was unsuccessful. I had to make a choice. At risk were the
lives of hundreds of soldiers, if in fact, a terrorist operated this vehicle. However, the make of the
vehicle indicated that it was probably friendly.
The truck stopped at the edge of the berm and a figure emerged, barely visible in the
dark. It was my duty to prevent unauthorized entry into this facility. The figure continued to
approach the perimeter. This action, whether friendly or not, was unauthorized. My failure to
respond might cost untold lives.
I sighted my M-16 rifle on the figure. Who was this person? The perpetrator stopped. Is
this someone’s parent? I switched the rifle from safe to semi-automatic. The figure turned around
and walked back to the vehicle, alleviating the threat. I switched the weapon back to safe. The
mysterious perpetrator drove away.
Whether justified or not, decisions made by soldiers in combat are embedded in moral
Shortly before the Ground War began, my commander assigned me to an ambulance
relay station inside Iraqi territory. From that vantage point, I witnessed one of the heaviest
bombing and artillery attacks in history. ―Bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night‖
that death was near there. During those sleepless nights, I reflected on the loss of Iraqi lives at
the receiving end of that barrage. Were the victims teenagers, or parents like me?
During the first forty-eight hours of the land invasion we watched tanks, Armored
Personnel Carriers, trucks, and other military vehicles roll by in endless lines. We prepared for
five hundred patients that first day.
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The first came dead-on-arrival. Inside his wallet, he kept a picture of his wife and two
children. Five other patients later arrived, far fewer than expected. Could the small number of
casualties relieve some of the pain felt by those who lost loved ones?
Soon we celebrated a cease-fire with a convoy of Iraqi prisoners of war. A nurse handed
a pack of cigarettes to one truckload of prisoners. The Iraqis appeared grateful to see the end of
My struggle continued. Our next assignment took us to Kuwait City. We were the first
medical unit to arrive in the capital. There, I saw the Highway of Death.
George Bush promised the Iraqis that if they left their weapons behind and returned to
Iraq, we would not attack. Among the many demolished civilian automobiles were a few military
vehicles. Some automobiles flew blood-stained white flags. Tears flowed as I smelled the rotting
flesh of 30,000 broken promises.
Before the Kuwaitis returned to Kuwait City, we interacted only with the impoverished
migrant laborers and resident aliens. While most of the wealthy Kuwaitis escaped to Saudi
Arabia, these people bore the heaviest burden of Iraqi occupation. The bruises on a Palestinian I
met gave credibility to his complaints of revengeful abuse from returning Kuwaiti soldiers. The
Palestinians became unfortunate victims in the path of a ―noble cause.‖
Eerie dark clouds engulfed Kuwait. Black oil tarnished the once beautiful beaches of
Kuwait City. A few soldiers in our unit, including one who never smoked, were shipped to
hospitals in Europe and America for lung damage. Environmental damage was an inadvertent
side effect of military action.
After three weeks in Kuwait, I wanted to leave. But instead of going home we were sent
to Safwan, Iraq, to treat refugees.
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In Safwan, two Iraqi interpreters assisted us. One was a Kurdish physician who saw his
wife and two children brutally murdered by Saddam’s retaliatory attacks on Kurdish villages.
The other, a veterinarian, was a Sunni Moslem from Baghdad who witnessed his brother’s
punishment and death for avoiding conscription. The veterinarian managed to evade detection by
disguising himself as a general in the Iraqi Republican Guard.
The Iraqis worked long hours for only food and shelter. Our mission could have not been
accomplished without their language skills. Instead of rewarding them for their assistance, we
were ordered to leave them behind to face almost certain death. Do ethical causes require us to
abandon our friends?
At the Safwan refugee camp, I came face to face with the victims of not only six weeks
of war but six months of economic sanctions. To look into the eye of a hungry child is a soul
wrenching experience, especially if you realize you are a participant in the cause of their
suffering. The children lined the roads, only to be forced away by United States Military Police
wielding baseball bats.
Finally, the order came to pack up, return to Saudi Arabia, and prepare to go home. In an
attempt to use the excess rations stockpiled for the war, we received double and triple ration
orders. As part of our preparation to leave, I was ordered to destroy all excess food.
A small fraction of the food found its way to a refugee camp. Transporting food became
an inconvenience for departure. The remaining food we were ordered to burn. I remember
laughing when heated tin cans exploded. We were excited to go home.
Then, they came.
Our location was kept secret. We treated only patients we transported from the refugee
camp in Safwan. Direct admission for treatment was prohibited for security reasons. Up to this
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point, no children directly approached our camp.
Three of them stood facing me. They walked up to the edge of the concertina wire
delineating the perimeter of our assembly. Through the curling smoke of burning food, I
envisioned the features of my own daughter over the gaunt faces of three Iraqi children.
Who did I think I was? Who would ignite food in front of starving children? A
suppressed conscience kindled anguish deep inside, an agony of anger and pain. I became angry
at myself for not confronting injustice.
As I looked at the children everyone else seemed to ignore, I could not erase the painful
image of my own daughter. Years of discipline and training could no longer restrain my shame.
In open violation of security, I picked up a case of Campbell’s soup previously intended
for the flames, and carried it to the children. The oldest child, a girl of about seven, began to
speak in Arabic. I didn’t understand a word she said, but I knew what she wanted.
Did I dare do it again? I knew that I violated orders. After returning with the second case,
the young Iraqi girl again indicated she wanted more. A third time I returned to the stockpile and
obtained another case of Campbell’s soup, wondering how the youngest child, no more than
three, might carry this box all the way home at least a mile away.
I could not restore the food I already burned. This guilt I must live with. I was later
reprimanded for breaching security. However, I managed to stop further destruction of the food
and to convince the platoon sergeant that rather than burning the food, it was better to leave the
food unguarded upon our departure for the children or others in need of it.
That young Iraqi girl awakened in me a new outlook on war.
Ethical thought today is challenged by the variety of perspectives from which choices are
made. We must challenge ourselves to transcend our own limited perspectives. Yet at the same
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time, we must avoid the danger of abandoning ethics in the face of relativism.
This is a challenge that is not easily and maybe never met. We must begin to ask the
difficult question, ―Justice for whom?‖
Each time I look through the curling smoke of other fires, I recall the tears of a four-year
old bidding farewell, the fear of a soldier, the sound of ―bombs bursting in air,‖ the rotting smell
of 30,000 broken promises, the friends who gave their lives, and most of all, the vision of my
own daughter over the gaunt faces of those Iraqi children.
Can we muster the courage to share a little Campbells’s soup?
Murphy, T. (1993). The Meaning of Ethics Today: Choices, Challenges, and Changes, Justice –
Thomas Murphy’s essay was Winner of Honorable Mention in the 1993 Elie Wiesel Prize in
Ethics Essay Contest. Dr. Murphy is Chair, Department of Anthropology, Edmonds Community
College; Lynnwood, Washington.
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